Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

en, that the term “old man” is proverbially used to express any thing worthless.

The inhabitants of the Caribbean Islands were not only cannibals, but fed upon their own children. Nay, it is asserted on such authority, as was satisfactory to Mr. Locke, that their children were mutilated, for the purpose of their being fattened for the day of slaughter.

The same author quotes, from the voyage of Baumgarten, an account of certain persons among the Turks, degraded beneath even brutality itself, who are, nevertheless, regarded as saints. The passage is too remarkable entirely to escape the notice of those, who study the Essay on Human Understanding: and too disgusting, though clothed in Roman language, to be introduced into a public lecture.

Thus have we taken a very brief view of the religious and moral state of the heathen world, as it was before the coming of Christ, and as it has been in modern times. Whether we fix our attention on nations, the most civilized, or the most barbarous, we find them entertaining absurd, incoherent, and blasphemous views as to religion : we find them debased and polluted with the greatest crimes. In others words, they were alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance, which was in them.

In view of all the evidence, which has been adduced, no person, it is believed, making a sober use of his intellectual powers, will, for a moment, assert, that accessions of light and knowledge on the subjects of morality and religion, were not, from some source or other, devoutly to be desired.

Some, it is possible, however, may not be convinced, that this inference can fairly be made from the facts, collected in this and the preceding lecture. What, it may be asked, though the heathen both of ancient and modern times have been dissolute in their manners? If that will prove any thing to the disadvantage of their religion, is there not a sufficiency of vice among christans to authorize the same conclusion in relation to theirs ?

I answer that the difference between the two cases cor

sists in this; when christians violate the principles of morality, they as certainly violate the principles of their religion. Whereas the pagan might be impure, dishonest, and revengeful;—nay, all human vices might flourish in him, with unrestrained luxuriance, and yet his character not be materially different from theirs, whom his religion taught him to worship as gods. It has been shown, that the tendency of paganism was to pollute the heart, and to debase the character. When it can be shown, that such is the natural effect of christianity, it will, I presume, be abandoned by those, who are now its votaries. But this, it is well known, can never be made to appear.

In regard to heathen religion, three things, you will observe, have been shown; 1. The gross, absurd, and impious opinions, which it taught concerning God and a future state ; 2. The cruel and obscene rites, which were practised in the established worship; 3. The general profligacy of pagan manners.

The two last are clearly the result of the other. Their viciousness of character, and the cruelty and licentiousness of their worship, were the legitimate offspring of their false sentiments as to religion. Hence it appears, that their errors in speculation were both practical and dangerous.

But, though what has been said, will probably be thought sufficient to show, that further instruction on the relation, duties, and destinies of man, was greatly wanted; further doubts may still arise, whether any thing supernatural were requisite for this purpose ; and whether the light of philoso. phy might not have been sufficient to expel the incumbent darkness.

In regard to the soul's immortality, this question has been already answered. Philosophy was shown to have given no certainty on that subject. How far it was an adequate guide on other subjects in religion, and what were its powers in purifying the heart and the life, will, if God permit, be considered in a future lecture.

LECTURE V I.

Ancient Philosophers inadequate guides in Religion. Having contemplated the darkness, in which the heathen world was enveloped, and that general profligacy, by which the human character was degraded, we are now to inquire whether the evil were likely to be remedied by those, whose superior application and wisdom procured for them the distinction of philosophers.

That mankind were not either reformed, or well instructed on the subjects of religion, in consequence of philosophy, those facts, which have been exhibited, sufficiently prove. That there were no instances, however, in which philosophical instruction produced any good effect on the sentiments and morals of them who received it, I do not assert. Solitary individuals, and even communities may have received benefit from such instruction. Polemo was suddenly recovered from a life of effeminacy and dissipation by a moral lecture from Xenophanes. A surprising reformation is said to have been effected at Crotona by the school of Pythagoras. But not withstanding these instances, no general alteration was produced in theological opinions, no extensive amendment in the views and morals of men. Their worship was not henceforth confined to one being, Almighty, holy, and independent: nor was the number of pagan deities even diminished. Whatever we have noticed of absurdity in sentiment, licentiousness in worship, or viciousness in deportment existed, long after Pythagoras had established his school in Italy.

1

We shall now endeavour to show that this is a matter, which ought to excite no surprise: that pagan philosophy not only did not produce correct sentiments and pure morals, but had no tendency towards such a result. And,

1. That philosophy, was no adequate guide, as to subjects most interesting to man, appears from the confession of some who professed it. Socrates acknowledges, that divine instruction and assistance were necessary to enable men to worship God in a suitable manner.

To the same purpose speaks Jamblicus, as quoted by Le. land. It is manifest says that philosopher, that those things are to be done, which are pleasing to God; but what they are, it is not easy to know, except a man were taught them by God himself, or by some person, who had received them from God, or obtained a knowledge of them by some other means.”

Il. Philosophers were extremely erroneous and discordant in regard to their views of the Supreme Being. There is no subject, says Cicero, concerning which, not only the ignorant, but also the learned, are so little agreed. While some denied his existence, others spake of it in very doubtful terms, or confounded his existence with that of the Universe.

Bion of Scythia was openly an atheist, and took much pleasure in ridiculing those who sacrificed to the gods ; though at the close of his life, he retracted his former sentiments, and professed repentance for all, which he had said offensive to religion.

Theodorus was ejected, first from Cyrene, and then from Athens, on a charge of atheism. This charge is supported by the authority of Cicero, Plutarch, and Suidas, as quoted by Stanley. Protagoras doubted, whether there were gods, says Cicero, and Diagoras denied them. Democritus either entirely rejected the notion of Deity, or allowed him no share in the creation and government of the world. The same may be said of Epicurus. As it respects religion, or even morality, it is immaterial, which of these opinions is embraced.

Many of those, who acknowledged an invisible, presiding power, had, notwithstanding, very lax opinions as to the relation, subsisting between that power and the objects of this world. Of the Ionic school, instituted by Thales, no one, says Leland, before Anaxagoras, attributed the creation of the world to an intelligent mind.

To the same Anaxagoras, the preceptor of Socrates, Mitford attributes the first conception of an eternal, almighty, good being, independent of matter.

Among ancient philosophers, there is none, perhaps, who has been held in higher estimation by the christian world, than Socrates. He entertained sentiments concerning the Supreme Being, which were, in a great measure, just, and were highly elevated. Yet, in his last conversation with his disciples, a little before he received the fatal potion, he spake of the gods, in the plural number, and did not reprove his friends for swearing by them. Nay, in his defence before his judges, he addresses Melitus, his accuser, in the fol. lowing manner, “ I conjure you in the name of those gods, whose interest is now concerned, to explain your meaning more clearly.” Moreover, Socrates habitually sacrificed to the gods after the manner of his country. And Xenophon informs us, that he appealed to this fact to repel the charge, brought against him of 'not acknowledging as gods, those, whom his country recognized as such. Besides, what account can be given of the sacrifice, which, in the last moments of his life, when there could be no temptation to dissemble his opinions, he directed his friends to offer to Æsculapius ? I know of no method of accounting for this, but by supposing, that, besides the one Supreme Being, “ Socrates admitted the existence of others, who hold a middle station between God and man, to whose immediate agency he ascribed the phenomena of nature, and whom he believed to be particularly concerned in the management of buman affairs.” This is indeed the opinion attributed to him, by Dr. Enfield. It appears then, that, however correct may have been the opinions of Socrates, as to the Supreme

« AnteriorContinuar »